Enhancing travel accessibility: Transreport's Passenger Assistance App revolutionises rail travel for disabled passengers

With Innovate UK Contracts for Innovation funding, Transreport has developed an award-winning Passenger Assistance app which makes travel more inclusive for passengers requiring assistance.

Posted on: 20/05/2024
Transreport’s Passenger Assistance app is now the national exclusive system provider for all the train companies in this country for assistance booking.
Transreport’s Passenger Assistance app is now the national exclusive system provider for all the train companies in this country for assistance booking.

The need to improve transport accessibility

The Department for Transport (DfT) was aware of the need to achieve equal access for disabled people and improve operational efficiency in transport hubs. With no market solutions available at the time, in 2018 DfT worked with Innovate UK to open a Contracts for Innovation challenge to develop solutions.

In 2016, Jay Shen, CEO of Transreport had identified that disabled and older passengers were experiencing significant barriers to travel due to the complexities in arranging passenger assistance at train stations.

At that time, disabled and older passengers were required to provide the train operator with at least 24 hours notice of their intention to travel if they needed assistance. Assistance was unreliable, and there was no consistent method among train operators to request help, resulting in passengers having to spend many hours on the phone with each company’s customer service team before travel. In some cases, people with non-visible impairments struggled to get train companies to understand the access needs of people with visual or hearing impairments or mental health conditions. 

In 2016, I was a PhD student at Warwick University when I met a wheelchair user on a train journey. He told me about the difficulties he experienced when travelling on the train. He told me that he often got to the station but couldn’t board the train because no one would help him get on. Even if he could get on the train, he might not be able to get off at the correct station as the rail company may not provide timely assistance. I thought, ‘I have to do something about this’. It was about the time when Deliveroo and JustEat were starting, and I thought if you can track a pizza on JustEat, you must be able to track a person’s journey to help people travel freely.

– Jay Shen, CEO of Transreport

The solution

The Contracts for Innovation challenge set by DfT fitted well with the ambitions of Transreport to develop a prototype app that could resolve the issue by linking rail companies and disabled and older people. 

As a start-up organisation at the time, Transreport secured initial funding of £350,000 from Contracts for Innovation in 2018 to develop their Passenger Assistance technology. The funding is part of the £1.8 billion of 100% funded Research and Development contracts which have been awarded to innovative organisations since 2008 to respond to public sector needs without market solutions. The Contracts for Innovation challenge model reduced the high cost and risk of developing Passenger Assistance by including end-users at the outset and giving Transreport confidence there was a genuine route to market. 

The Passenger Assistance technology connects businesses and disabled people who want to book passenger assistance from the rail company, allowing passengers to communicate their access needs in advance. Once passengers register their profile on the Passenger Assistance app, their details are saved, and all they need to do is select their journey details to receive assistance. If the train is delayed, the station staff will automatically get notified. 

The impact of the project 

The Rail Delivery Group has procured the Transreport Passenger Assistance app with a multi-million-pound contract.

Transreport’s award-winning Passenger Assistance app has now been used to facilitate millions of journeys by every train company in Great Britain. Train providers have welcomed the Passenger Assistance app as it can enhance accessibility and improve the customer experience for disabled passengers. The rail industry regulators, the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), recently issued a report which noted that disabled passengers report a 10% uplift in satisfaction with the customer experience since Transreport embedded its technology into the train booking system. 

The recognition and funding provided by the Department for Transport increased the product’s attractiveness to private investors, enabling the firm to leverage further investment. Transreport has increased turnover from £134k to £1m, growing its employee base to more than five times its original size.

Jay Shen comments:

We grew from working with just one train company to becoming a national critical infrastructure for transportation. Every train company in Great Britain now uses our technology to provide a service to disabled and older passengers. So, if you need assistance when you travel on the railway network, you will now use our tech, whether directly via the Passenger Assistance app, on the train company website, or if you ‘turn up and go’.  The funding helped us to grow from a start-up business with six employees to a business with £4m annual revenue and over 100 employees. The funding was essential to our development, but having Contracts for Innovation backing also gave us valuable credibility because train companies knew we had been rigorously assessed.

The future is bright

Transreport is now in talks with Japan Rail, presenting an export opportunity for the UK.

We are seeing interest from Japan, Australia, and the Middle East, providing export opportunities for the UK. There’s also the opportunity to diversify into aviation, where we are now creating a multi-modal, accessible travel platform for disabled people. By 2030, we hope to generate £500m in revenue. None of this would be possible without Contracts for Innovation’s support.

– Jay Shen, CEO of Transreport

Share this article

Related programme

Contracts for Innovation

Contracts for Innovation

Enabling innovators to work directly with the public sector to develop new technologies and processes.


Connect with Innovate UK Business Connect

Join Innovate UK Business Connect's mailing list to receive updates on funding opportunities, events and to access Innovate UK Business Connect's deep expertise. Please check your email to confirm your subscription and select your area(s) of interest.